Gambling is an activity where participants stake something of value (usually money) on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. In some cases, such events can be regulated by law to control the amount of risk and chance involved. While most people gamble for entertainment and fun, some find themselves addicted to gambling. There are a number of treatments available for those with an addiction to gambling.
Humans are biologically programmed to seek rewards. When we spend time with a loved one, eat a delicious meal or win at the casino, our body releases chemicals that give us pleasure. Some people, however, are more sensitive to these chemical responses and experience problems when they gamble. These individuals may feel compelled to gamble even when the behavior negatively impacts their life and relationships. Pathological gambling, or PG, is a type of problem gambling that has been identified by mental health professionals. The DSM has emphasized the similarities between PG and substance abuse/addiction since its third edition in 1987, but researchers have not yet established sufficient validity data to support classification as an addiction.
Some psychiatric experts have proposed that PG is an impulse control disorder, but this proposal has not yet been substantiated. Moreover, despite the apparent similarity between PG and other impulse control disorders, there are significant differences in the prevalence of PG between different demographic groups, including age, gender and education. Moreover, while a substantial number of people with PG report that their problems first appeared in adolescence, the majority of research on PG has been conducted using cross-sectional designs that do not allow the identification of cause and effect.
In contrast, longitudinal studies offer the potential to identify factors that moderate and exacerbate gambling participation, as well as to assess the relative importance of different underlying psychological constructs. A longitudinal design also provides a more accurate understanding of the etiology of PG, since it enables the investigator to determine whether the behavior is learned or innate.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve any medications to treat PG, but several types of psychotherapy are available to those with an addiction to gambling. Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained mental health professional to address unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors that contribute to the addiction. Some examples of psychotherapy include family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Group therapy is another option for those with a gambling addiction; it can provide motivation and moral support from other individuals struggling with the same issue. In addition, a therapist can help an individual learn to manage stress and other mental health conditions that may contribute to gambling behaviors. For example, a person with PTSD may develop a gambling habit in response to the trauma of losing a large sum of money. This individual may experience anxiety when attempting to gamble and therefore will struggle to overcome the habit. However, a therapist can help the individual recognize and interpret these triggers so that they can avoid them.